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Over the last couple of days, we have heard Jesus speak in parables to the chief priest, scribes and Pharisees. In today’s Gospel from St. Matthew, Jesus criticizes the behavior of the scribes and Pharisees in much more direct terms.

They tie up heavy burdens hard to carry and lay them on people’s shoulders,but they will not lift a finger to move them. All their works are performed to be seen. They widen their phylacteries and lengthen their tassels. They love places of honor at banquets, seats of honor in synagogues, greetings in marketplaces, and the salutation “Rabbi.”

I’m guessing if we look around, we can find many examples of people behaving like the scribes and Pharisees Jesus criticized. I’m also guessing that if we examine our own behavior, we can find examples of the same.

Jesus offers a clear instruction as an alternative to the behavior he criticizes: “As for you, do not be called ‘Rabbi.’ You have but one teacher, and you are all brothers. Call no one on earth your father; you have but one Father in heaven. Do not be called ‘Master'; you have but one master, the Christ. The greatest among you must be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”

Humility is not a trait that is particularly valued in our society. Rather, we live in a society that prizes a lot of things that have to do with the self: self-reliance, self- confidence, self-expression, self-centeredness. We talk about my achievements, my talents, the things I have earned. We prize our ability to take care of ourselves, to run things according to our own vision and plan.

But Jesus calls us to a humility. First in recognizing our dependence on God, our “one Father in heaven.” Second in our dealings with each other.

As challenging as is the command to love one another with the radical love that Jesus shows for all of us, I think the command to be humble is equally challenging. It is not about forcing ourselves to behave in a particular way. It is about internalizing the reality of our relationship with God and with one another.

As I mentioned earlier this week, this is our week of Orientation for the incoming first year law students. One of the things we do during Orientation is give the students a sampling of some of the spiritual growth and worship opportunities that are available during the school year. Monday the St. Thomas More Society led a Lectio divina, Tuesday we had a Bible study session, Wednesday, Weekly Manna, and today I gave a Mid-Day Reflection.

I picked Micah 6:8 as the basis for today’s gathering: “You have been told, O mortal, what is good, and what the Lord requires of you: To act justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.”

It seemed to me a perfect passage with which to begin the year. In the context of this new environment, I thought it would be worthwhile to encourage the students to spend some time reflecting on how they will actualize what God asks of them; to think about what it means for them as law students (and future lawyers) to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly.

I began my reflection with a little background to the passage, and then spoke a little about each element of “what the Lord requires.” We then took time for some individual silent reflection, and ended with some sharing by the participants.

You can access a recording of the talk I gave here or stream it from the icon below. The podcast runs for 20:53. You can find the handout I distributed for individual reflection here.

You Are Invited

Today’s Gospel from St. Matthew is Jesus’ parable of a king who gave a wedding feast for his son. This is part of a series of parables Jesus directs to the chief priests and elders who approach him to ask by what authority Jesus is acting.

Jesus here tells the story of the man who gives a great dinner to which many are invited. We are intended to envision here, I once heard a preacher say, the party of the century. Not, he suggested, a “I have a season of The Office on DVD and a bag of Doritos, so come on over,” but a lavish wedding feast. One by one, they make excuses. Their excuses weren’t bad as excuses go – the need to deal with business, a recent marriage.

We are all, at least on occasion, like the guests. We say we are going to respond to God’s invitation, but we get distracted, they put other things first. Other things become priorities, rather than God. It is not that the things are evil in themselves (they might be good things), but they become so important that they threaten our commitment to discipleship.

There is a tension, one faced not only by the religious leaders who were the direct target of Jesus’ story, but by all of us. We are meant to enjoy the gifts God has given us, but we don’t want to let those gifts become so important that they become god to us. We are meant to enjoy the gifts we have been given, but not to make them more important than God.

The invitation to life with God is extended to everyone, but not all will accept it.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells his disciples that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the Kingdom of God.”

Why is that? Is God prejudiced against the rich?

It helps me to understand what Jesus is talking about to recall the story told of a monkey whose hand gets trapped inside a glass jar. The jar has some food or trinket that the monkey is attracted to. The monkey can easily get his open hand into the jar, but once he closes his fist onto the treasure inside the jar, he is stuck, since he can’t pass his closed fist back through the jar opening. Thus, the monkey is trapped. He could easily free himself by simply letting go of what is inside the jar. But he cannot bring himself to give up the treasure.

I think that is a good image to keep in mind as we sit with today’s Gospel. It reminds us that it is our attachments that keep us trapped; it is the things of this world that provide us with (illusory) security that prevent us from passing easily “through the eye of a needle.” I had an image as I prayed of someone trying to force his way through a narrow doorway carrying big suitcases full of treasures.

Every day I pray St. Ignatius’ Suscipe, which ends with the line “Give me only your love and your grace; that is enough for me.” As I sat with today’s Gospel, I prayed, help me remember that Lord; help me remember that all I need is you. That I can let go of everything else.

New Beginnings

Today is the first day or Orientation for our incoming law students. This morning I will get to speak to them about the various worship and spiritual growth opportunities that we offer during the school year. They will also hear from a number of other people today and throughout the week.

It is an exciting time for our new students, but it can also be overwhelming and a little bit scary, as they begin something completely new. And so, with prayers and best wishes, I offer to our incoming students (and to all those starting something new this season) this blessing For a New Beginning, by John O’Donohue:

In out-of-the-way places of the heart,
Where your thoughts never think to wander,
This beginning has been quietly forming,
Waiting until you were ready to emerge.

For a long time it has watched your desire,
Feeling the emptiness growing inside you,
Noticing how you willed yourself on,
Still unable to leave what you had outgrown.

It watched you play with the seduction of safety
And the gray promises that sameness whispered,
Heard the waves of turmoil rise and relent,
Wondered would you always live like this.

Then the delight, when your courage kindled,
And out you stepped onto new ground,
Your eyes young again with energy and dream,
A path of plenitude opening before you.

Though your destination is not yet clear
You can trust the promise of this opening;
Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning
That is at one with your life’s desire.

Awaken your spirit to adventure;
Hold nothing back, learn to find ease in risk;
Soon you will be home in a new rhythm,
For your soul senses the world that awaits you.

Rendered Speechless

The other day, my daughter looked up from reading the newspaper and expressed sadness and something approaching bewilderment at all that is going on in the world. This morning, Diane Roth, a Lutheran pastor in the Twin Cities posted this on Facebook. It seems a fitting prayer for Elena and all of us.

Sometimes I am rendered
speechless
at the world.
just at the time
when I think the world
demands a word.
Tonight I am not in Ferguson, Missouri.
I am not fleeing persecution in Iraq.
I am not at the border where children wait.
I am not in Gaza, not in Israel, not in Syria.
I do not know the deep darkness of depression
from the inside out.
Lord, give me ears to hear
in humility
the stories of those who are there,
who live injustice,
who carry fear,
who long for life.
Help me bear witness
when the world demands
a word
and I am speechless.
Lord, make me an instrument
of your peace.

Today is the feast of the Assumption of Mary, a day that commemorates the death of Mary and her bodily assumption into Heaven, before her body could begin to decay.

For a long time, this was not a feast that I really appreciated. One of the difficulties for me is that the “Mary, Queen of Heaven” image that tends to be associated with this feast is not an image of Mary I relate to. When I see pictures depicting Mary’s Assumption or Mary’s Coronation as Queen of Heaven they bear no resemblance to the Mary of my prayers. Mary, the woman with the strength to say Yes to what must have seemed an insane and frightening proposition that she give birth to God. Mary, the woman at Cana who told the servants to do as Jesus asked. Mary, who stayed with Jesus til the end and then took the dead body of her son in her arms. Mary, who stayed with the apostles after the death, doubtless comforting (mothering) them in their loss of Jesus.

But what this feast does is give us a foretaste of our own bodily resurrection at the end of time. Mary’s experience is an embodiment of the reality of our Resurrection.

To be sure, Jesus resurrection is the true victory over death – that which gives creates the possibility of our own resurrection and ultimate full union with God. But with Jesus there is always the nagging thought, “Well sure, he was God, of course it worked for him. He may have been fully human, but he was also fully divine from the get go.”

But Mary was human, like us. And Mary’s assumption into heaven, body and soul, symbolizes for us the reality of what will happen for all of – resurrection of the body into full union with God. You can phrase it various ways as a matter of dogma. But her experience is, in simplest terms, a foretaste of our own.

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